There is a field of science called chronobiology that seeks to understand the cycles that ebb and flow under the surface of life. Many of these patterns follow the sun (daily) and moon (monthly), but some of the most amazing and ubiquitous ones follow a twelve month cycle, like mating, reproduction, blooming, and hibernation.
Teachers are no exception to this phenomenon. More than many professions, our lives follow a predictable and renewing annual pattern. Every fall, we welcome new students. Throughout the academic year, we build relationships with them and learn their strengths and weaknesses. We watch them grow and develop.
But at the end of the year, often contrary to our natural emotional instincts, we cast them out of our lives. We send them on to the next stage in their lives, bestowed with our wisdom and strengthened by what they have uncovered in their short time with us.
From the students’ perspective, education is an upward spiral. But, for teachers, it’s a never-ending cycle of building bonds and breaking them.
I think that year-round teachers have it the worst because the time between saying goodbye to departing students and welcoming the new can often be measured in hours. In response to the constant flux of year-round teaching, these educators must find creative ways to insulate themselves from the emotional toil of this annual cycle. But all teachers eventually learn to maintain a certain emotional distance as a self-defense measure. We protect our hearts by not opening them too far.
This year, I was presented with an opportunity to move up to the eighth grade with my seventh grade students. I was excited about the possibilities–students already familiar with my style and procedures, relationships already formed–and the year has lived up to my expectations. I have never enjoyed teaching as much as I have this year.
As this year draws to a close, however, I am starting to realize that there is a penalty for disrupting the natural cycle of teachers. By choosing to continue on with my students, and not start fresh last fall, I am setting myself up for a much more difficult goodbye this June. I look out at my classes sometimes and feel a sense of dread at the prospect of starting over again. I worry about their future almost as much as I do my own children.
And so, the questions arises: was it worth the emotional cost at the end to have another year with this class of learners? Will the benefits of deeper bonds and better communication outweigh the pain of watching 127 memories of the past two years head off to high school?
I can say with confidence that the answer is unequivocally “yes“.